Tennessee preseason preview: Quarterbacks

Tennessee preseason preview: Quarterbacks

July 23rd, 2016 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Joshua Dobbs (14) is the starting quarterback for the Vols. The University of Tennessee Orange/White Spring Football Game was held at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville on April 16, 2016.

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

BY THE NUMBERS

› 0: Josh Dobbs had 15 touchdown passes in 2015, but none of those were in the fourth quarter. He attempted only 40 fourth-quarter passes because Tennessee either had the game in hand or was opting to play conservative with a lead. The eighth-most efficient passer in the SEC last season, Dobbs needs to improve throwing the ball, but the coaches need to trust him more in crunch time.

› 22: Quinten Dormady threw 22 passes, completing 13 for 209 yards and one touchdown, in six games as the freshman backup last season.

› 28.5: Tennessee’s passing attempts per game in 2015, which was the fourth-fewest in the SEC.

› 47: Dobbs has accounted for 47 total touchdowns — 26 passing, 20 rushing and one receiving — in his 24 career games.

› 97: Dobbs needs just 97 yards to break Tennessee’s career rushing record for a quarterback. Jimmy Streater (1976-79) holds it at 1,426 yards, and Dobbs is at 1,329 entering his senior season. Dobbs also needs six rushing touchdowns to surpass Streater’s career record of 25. Dobbs also has accounted for three of the seven 100-yard rushing games by a Tennessee quarterback.

STAR POWER

If there's been a preseason watch list for an award given to quarterbacks, Tennessee's Josh Dobbs was on it. While more than half the SEC will spend August answering questions at quarterback, the Vols roll into the season with a proven, productive veteran. He's handled the role as the face of the program exceptionally well on and off the field.

Dobbs has been crucial to Tennessee's turnaround, and likewise he'll be one of the main reasons the Vols do or don't live up to expectations this season.

PROMISING PROSPECTS

Tennessee has recruited well at quarterback, and the Vols like what they have at the position beyond Dobbs, though ideally they'd like to play the younger quarterbacks only in the fourth quarters of decided victories.

Quinten Dormady easily won the backup job last season and remains poised to maintain that job. The sophomore from Texas arguably has the strongest arm and throws the most accurately of any of Tennessee's quarterbacks. Yet he's not the same runner as the other three, so the Vols would have to tweak the offense if they had to turn to him.

Sheriron Jones is back after canceling his transfer to Colorado. The redshirt freshman built off some strong bowl practices during the spring until suffering a leg injury. Jones will push Dormady for the backup job, but this season may be more about improvement than anything else for the former four-star recruit.

FRESH FACES

The Vols continued their strong quarterback recruiting in 2016 by signing Jarrett Guarantano, the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the 2016 class. The New Jersey product is physically gifted from his strong arm to his impressive mobility. Another player with a good head on his shoulders, Guarantano has impressed in his short time on campus.

Barring him winning the backup job or multiple injuries, the coaches would prefer to redshirt Guarantano so they can continue staggering the classes of their quarterbacks. He could use an offseason to get stronger, learn the offense and focus on improvement. The competition next spring among Dormady, Jones and Guarantano to replace Dobbs should be fierce.

STRONG SUITS

Dobbs is undeniably one of the best running quarterbacks in college football.

His ability to run the ball and make plays with his rare combination of speed, elusiveness and overlooked strength are obvious. Dobbs has more than 1,300 yards and 20 touchdown runs in his career. Whether he is taking off on a quarterback draw or running from pressure, he seems to make a handful of plays every game that most quarterbacks can't.

It's the dimension that makes Tennessee's offense go. His 136-yard rushing game at Florida should have been good enough for a win, and he had 118 yards in the season-saving win against Georgia. In the losses to Oklahoma, Arkansas and Alabama, Dobbs combined to run for only 38 yards.

Dobbs also was excellent on third down last season. Tennessee converted those downs into firsts at a 46-percent clip, which was second- best in the SEC. The Vols were a league-best 47 percent on third downs in SEC games.

QUESTION MARKS

The primary criticism of Dobbs is his inconsistency throwing the ball, particularly his accuracy on longer passes. It's the aspect of his game he must improve for Tennessee to score enough points against the elite defenses on the schedule, though it's hard to point to Dobbs' deficiencies as a passer as the sole culprit of any of last season's losses.

In seven games against teams ranked in the top 40 in total defense, Dobbs completed 57 percent of his passes for a per-game average of 155 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions — and that included a masterful 312-yard, three-TD performance against Georgia in his best game of the season.

Of course, the Vols probably would not have beat Georgia or South Carolina without some key throws from Dobbs, so he's capable of making plays through the air when he's turned loose and in a rhythm.

Consistent execution in the passing game was missing last season and became an emphasis for the offense during spring practice, and it will be necessary for Tennessee's offense to go from great to championship- caliber.

In addition to more consistent play at wide receiver and more sufficient pass protection, better accuracy from Dobbs will be key for Tennessee's passing game to click just enough for opposing defenses to respect it, which will ease the burden on the run game.


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